Hey there and welcome to one of the best times you are ever going to have. Mountain biking is a fun and healthy way to get outside, spend time with friends, and enjoy nature. Since you are new to this world, I thought I would write up a guide of sorts.
I am going to assume that you at least have a bike, but maybe you aren’t sure how to use all those gears. Spend some time on the bike on flat terrain and get used to everything before you go off on some steep and wooded trail, OK? There’s a whole lot of gears and chain down there. Take a look at it all and get an idea of how it works. The best way to shift gears is before it is actually necessary, which means you’ll have to practice so that you can get a feel for it. The more you ride, the easier it will become, but it will take time. In the meantime, realize that if it is way too hard to get uphill or your pedals are spinning on their own going downhill—you’re doing it wrong. Continue doing it that way and you’ll end up replacing your drivetrain really quickly. Just like an engine, your bike will start making lots of noise when you’re messing up the gears. Listen to it.
Braking is hard. Do it wrong and you’ll crash or flip yourself off your bike. Again, this is something that takes practice, especially when you’re going downhill. Be conscious of where the weight is distributed on your bike. For example, going downhill means most of your weight is in the front of the bike, so the front brake will have the most control. But if you shift your weight more to the back, your rear brakes can help you more. This is something you will have to get used to as you do it. Eventually, it will become second nature. You’ll be able to figure out how to slow down without even thinking about it. Until then, though, practice. Try to anticipate braking so that you can start applying the brake slowly and you don’t have one of those “I’m gonna die!” moments.
Cheat sheet for gears:
–low gears going uphill. The harder you pedal, the more pressure will be on your chain and the more likely it will break. The gear will depend on the terrain and how steep the incline is, but you will get the hang of it. Promise. Also: don’t stop pedaling. You’re on an incline. Go too slow and you make life harder for yourself. Or, you know, you go backward. Fight the urge to get out of the seat.
–shift into the big ring going downhill. The bumpier the ride down, the more likely you’ll knock your chain loose and have one of those ‘life flashing before your eyes’ moments. It will also protect your leg from getting mangled by the big ring if you crash. It’s the little things in mountain biking, I know. Stand up when going downhill to save your butt some beating. Also, you want to keep your pedals parallel to the ground so they don’t catch on anything and send you flying.
It probably sounds like a lot but it is kind of like driving. Once you get it, you just get it. It becomes second nature. Take your time and get a feel for it, and you’ll be hitting trails like a pro in no time.